Napoleon and Josephine embroidery - Museum and Heritage - First part
Inspiration source for embroidery
I have always been a fan of the Army Museum in Paris, where the tomb of Napoléon is situated, a place in the heart of Paris that I often visit.
And whilst researching for the Versailles and Marie-Antoinette pattern charts, I discovered that the Empress Joséphine was influential in clearing the name of Marie-Antoinette, collecting many of her objects and using her as a source of inspiration. On a visit to the Château de Malmaison, all the roses were in bloom, it was a beautiful day and I succumbed to the charm of the architecture, the decoration and atmosphere of this countryside only a half-hour away from the bustle of Paris. Joséphine was a collector in the style of cabinets of curiosities of the 18th century, with lots of grace, style and elegance.
A visit to Fontainebleau was decisive for me: it was there that Napoléon decided to establish his power, refurnishing the château and redesigning the gardens.
In the museum dedicated to the Emperor can be found, among other things, a reconstruction of the tent from the Napoleonic Wars, his famous bicorn hat and a collection of totally exceptional fabrics. You will find in this pattern chart evocations of this universe.
Even if their story finishes at their separation, the two constructed a style, an era and an art of living…
Our bark linen seemed the perfect choice for this pattern chart, a slightly masculine colour which remains soft enough to bring out the different embroidery elements. The pattern measures 345 points wide and 346 points high. When embroidered over 2 strands of 12 count linen, this gives a finished size of 57.5 x 57.8cm. To leave enough of a margin for mounting, I recommend a swatch of 70 x 70cm.
As always, this pattern chart is based on the textile aspects of the subject. So what about the roses? Apart from the fact that the famous Belgian botanist and painter worked with Joséphine, you will see later on the connection between these marvellous flowers and textile.…
The title of the embroidery
A simple, empire-style typography, which can be found on the majority of books about Napoléon and Joséphine.
The emperor's hat
A silhouette immediately evocative of the Emperor, the bicorn was also called “le petit chapeau” (the little hat). A simple form, made from black felt or beaver, the hat sported neither stripes nor plume, just an emblem held in place by a silk braid. This distinguished the generals and marshals. All were made by the milliner Poupard, the oldest of Napoléon’s hats is conserved in the Army Museum in Paris.
The civil uniforms
The Emperor’s Household followed very specific codes. Thus the civil uniforms of High Dignitaries were embroidered with gold and those of the Great Officers with their lower position, in silver. For the latter, the palm tree motif was no doubt a reminder of the Egyptian Campaign and is associated with oak and bay trees. Many of these embroideries were made in the Augustin- François Picot atelier following a design by Isabey. The colour of the velvet uniforms defined the function: scarlet for the chamberlain, blue for the grand master of ceremonies and green for the grand huntsman. This is symbolised by the rectangles underneath the embroidery.
The imperial eagle and the Legion of Honour
The symbol of Jupiter is associated with military victories since ancient times. The day after his coronation, the 2nd December 1804, Napoléon had an imperial eagle placed on the top of all the flagpoles of his armies. This is evoked in the famous painting by David, The Distribution of the Eagle Standards. Here it is an interpretation of the imperial eagle surrounded by a crown of bay leaves. Created on the 19th May 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, the first Legion of Honour was awarded the 15th July 1804. From 18th April 1806, the imperial eagle was added to the medal. Albeit stylised, this is the second version of the Legion of Honour from the First Empire.
The carpet and Emperor’s fabrics
The carpet and two fabrics are embroidered on a linen square and then sewn onto the main bark fabric.
The leopard motif from his campaign tent is embroidered on off-white linen,
the indienne on pearl grey and the fabric from the Emperor’s bedroom in Fontainbleau on off-white.
The carpet and the indienne floral fabric of Napoleon's campaign tent
The carpet and indienne here are inspired by the reconstruction of the Emperor’s campaign tent from the Napoleonic wars. The reconstruction was based on a model conserved at the Mobilier National. Generally the exterior was made of blue and white striped drill edged with a fringe of red wool. The interior is decorated with an indienne fabric, most probably printed at the Oberkampf Manufactory in Jouy-en-Josas. On the ground, a leopard-print carpet, evoking the saddle-cloths of cavalry officers. The tent was set up on battlefields and comprised a bedroom in the back with an iron bed with a strap base and in the front, a study with a folding writing desk and chair. In the reconstruction, you can also see the Emperor’s famous grey redingote.
The fabric of Napoleon's bedchamber at Fontainebleau
The fabrics decorating the Emperor’s small bedroom at Fontainebleau were considered furnishings in their own right. He had originally ordered them for the Ambassador’s Room in the Château de Saint-Cloud (destroyed during the war of 1870). Designed by Jean-François Bony and executed by Camille Pernon, it is thus described: a flecked prune velvet base teeming with sprigs of flowers and bay leaves. Napoléon and Joséphine played an important part in reviving the cloth mills in the Lyon region, passing lavish orders for Saint-Cloud, Meudon, Fontainebleau, Les Tuileries as well as Versailles. This furnishing, however, never made it to Saint-Cloud and was finally installed at Fontainebleau in 1808. Judged too dark, the cloth was entrusted to the Maison Picot to lighten the prune base with an embroidery in pale yellow silk, which in reality appears ecru. As the floral motif is impressive, I have chosen for this cross-stitch interpretation to leave the base in ecru to differentiate the flowers and leaves.
The fabric of the border and the symbol of bees
The border is inspired by a damask which was woven in many versions and described as “a drawing made of different compartments with olive branches and bees”. The one I have chosen is a variant in crimson velvet embroidered with golden thread, made by Maison Grand Frères (from Lyon) in 1809 for the Emperor’s Chamber at the Tuileries Palace and used in the Versailles Palace. Napoléon took the bee symbol from the attributes used by Charlemagne to authenticate his status, whilst breaking away from the insignia of the old regime. There is also a reference to antiquity and Virgil, who saw the beehive as a model of social organisation. It is, in any case, an allusion to the industrious activity of the French population. It figures also on the famous purple velvet coat worn by the Emperor at his coronation, in imperial tribunals and administrations, as well as on many wall hangings.